In early May, the NBA announced that both the 2020 draft lottery and combine were postponed. Given the global situation dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it came as no surprise that the league would push these events back and, in the case of the combine, it remains entirely possible that the event simply won’t take place.
While the overall impact on the movement of those gatherings remains up for debate, one reality is that NBA teams still don’t know the draft order for 2020. To be fair, reporting exists that many expect the draft itself to be pushed back from its current slot on June 25 but, even if that transpires, teams would certainly love to know when they will be picking when things (finally) get underway.
Some of the uncertainty is dictated by the league aiming to restart play on the regular season and, in short, the resumption of the regular season would seemingly place an extended hold on the lottery, simply because the pre-lottery order (and odds) would be tied directly to the final record of teams. Regardless, the standings have been identical for nearly two months at this juncture and, for now, the reverse order is the best we have to “project” the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. With reports that a return to play with just playoff teams is gaining momentum, this may very well be the lottery order we end up with.
A decision on when the league will be back in action is expected to come along within the next week or so, and as such there’s some optimism that we will at least have an idea of what the draft will look like and when it will take place in the near future as well.
With that as the backdrop, it is time to weigh in with a glance at how the first round might look, beginning with the Golden State Warriors at the top, even while acknowledging that Golden State won’t have more than a 14 percent chance to remain at No. 1, even if the lottery happens without any change to the order.
1. Golden State Warriors – LaMelo Ball (G, Illawarra Hawks)
As noted, the Warriors may not land here and, if they do, the choice is exceptionally interesting. This isn’t a big board setting (though we have one for your perusal from the great Brian Schroeder) but, for me personally, Ball is the No. 1 player in the draft and that plays into this choice to some degree. From there, he would be intriguing with how he passes and feels the game, and it would be wild to see him operate an offense with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson flying around him. It has to be noted that Ball isn’t perfect for the Warriors, though, and Bob Myers and company may want a more complementary piece, even if that piece brings lower upside than Ball would if everything went perfectly.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers – Anthony Edwards (G, Georgia)
It would be accurate to say Edwards isn’t the best possible fit in Cleveland, but it would be a combination of best player available (at least in terms of creation upside) and a potential to pair with one of the Collin Sexton-Darius Garland duo long-term in the backcourt. Many have Edwards at No. 1 in this class, and that is defensible, leaving the Cavs with what is probably a relatively easy decision, even with some questions about how it might work.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves – Onyeka Okongwu (C/F, USC)
Candidly, I love Okongwu. He might be my favorite prospect in the class. This isn’t an absolutely perfect fit in that I believe Okongwu is probably best suited as a full-time center but, if you were going to pair him with a center on a semi-regular basis, it might be somebody like Karl-Anthony Towns. After all, Towns is the best three-point shooting center in NBA history and Okongwu could help him on the defensive end.
4. Atlanta Hawks – Killian Hayes (G, Ulm)
A plethora of mock drafts are tying the Hawks to a wing in this range and there is some logic in projecting someone like local product and Auburn wing Isaac Okoro. Honestly, Atlanta could go in a number of directions (including moving out of the fourth spot in a trade), simply because this isn’t a team with a glaring weakness on its roster. Ultimately, Hayes would be a “best player available” choice. While he isn’t a perfect fit alongside Trae Young, he does have enough size and skill level to play off the ball, though, and the Hawks should be in the market for a player that can act as the team’s offensive engine when Young heads to the bench for rest.
5. Detroit Pistons – James Wiseman (C, Memphis)
The Pistons are in a very strange place, and this wouldn’t be an ideal spot for them in the draft. Detroit is in desperate need of a primary creator but, with the three best options for that archetype off the board, they shift to simply taking the top-ranked player on many boards. Wiseman may not be the playoff game-changer that you’d ideally want, but NBA teams are buying in on his potential and the Pistons could be a natural landing spot.
6. New York Knicks – Obi Toppin (F/C, Dayton)
It would be undeniably hilarious if the Knicks drafted a combo big with this pick. I understand that. With that out of the way, New York may not be in love with the lead guard options that are still available in this scenario, and Toppin has significant appeal on the offensive end coming off his highly impressive final season in college. The logjam of bigs is mostly vets on short-term deals, so while this would elicit plenty of laughs, it wouldn’t be the abject disaster many would think initially.
7. Chicago Bulls – Tyrese Haliburton (G, Iowa State)
If the Bulls are tied to their frontcourt pairing of Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen, they probably can’t go to the well with a true big man here. Haliburton isn’t necessarily a perfect fit with Zach LaVine and Coby White, but he has a lot of connective tissue on the offensive side. Admittedly, this isn’t a pick I’m in love with, but sometimes that happens.
8. Charlotte Hornets – Deni Avdija (F, Maccabi Tel-Aviv)
Avdija could be off the board before this, as some organizations undoubtedly have a top-five grade on the 19-year-old forward. Other teams could be skeptical of his overall ceiling on either end, however, and that could push Avdija down the board a bit as teams fall in love with other pieces. Ultimately, he has the look of a long-term NBA rotation player, and the Hornets get a reasonable value.
9. Washington Wizards – Isaac Okoro (G/F, Auburn)
Washington can largely focus on best player available here, and Okoro might fit that bill. Beyond that, he is a prospect with a high defensive ceiling, and he could have appeal as a secondary creator next to Bradley Beal and/or John Wall.
10. Phoenix Suns – Cole Anthony (G, North Carolina)
The Suns are committed to Ricky Rubio for two more seasons, and that might scare them off another point guard option. Anthony falling to this spot might be intriguing, though, and his defense might be underrated at this juncture. He won’t be a game-changer on that end, but his offensive talents could pop playing alongside a lead creator in Devin Booker and the two could partner well in an optimal scenario.
11. San Antonio Spurs – Devin Vassell (G/F, Florida State)
Vassell would fit essentially anywhere. He may have real questions in terms of athleticism and on-ball creation offensively, but he’s a great off-ball defensive prospect and he can really shoot it. The Spurs pick up a value, and they should be able to maximize his talents.
12. Sacramento Kings – Aaron Nesmith (G/F, Vanderbilt)
The Kings don’t “need” a player like Nesmith necessarily, and that is especially true if they pay up for Bogdan Bogdanovic this summer. With that said, there is optimism in some circles that Nesmith can hold up defensively and, if that is true, his elite-level shooting should allow for a high-end supporting role that is malleable in any situation.
13. New Orleans Pelicans – Tyrese Maxey (G, Kentucky)
On my personal board, this would be an absolute heist for New Orleans. Maxey is a multi-talented combo guard that may have seen his stock fall a bit by the weirdness of his one and only season at Kentucky. He isn’t an overwhelmingly amazing fit, but Maxey can play, and it helps that he could be surrounded by Jrue Holiday and/or Lonzo Ball in some creative backcourt alignments.
14. Portland Trail Blazers – Patrick Williams (F, Florida State)
If a team buys into Patrick Williams’ shooting, this would be an appropriate draft slot. He’s young and raw, especially when compared to some of his contemporaries, but Williams is extremely athletic and projects as a quality defender. The Blazers need help on the wing in a desperate way, and he checks a lot of boxes for Portland, provided he comes into his own as a player.
15. Orlando Magic – Kira Lewis (PG, Alabama)
The Magic should still probably look for a point guard, even with Markelle Fultz’s development. Fultz also has really good size and burst, allowing him to play a bit in a non-lead role if his shooting stabilizes at all. As for Lewis, this might even be too low given what he brings to the table, especially if his body fills out a bit. He’s quite small but, even after two years of college, he’s young and talented.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Brooklyn) – Saddiq Bey (F, Villanova)
This is a very popular mock selection and it honestly makes sense. Bey is a big-time shooter that projects as a competent role player at the next level. Minnesota should be in the market for someone of that archetype alongside their other key pieces.
17. Boston Celtics (via Memphis) – Precious Achiuwa (F/C, Memphis)
You can find people that believe Achiuwa should be a top-10 pick. You can also find people that believe he shouldn’t be a first-round pick. Some of that is his size. Some of that is the fact that he’s quite old for a freshman. Some of it is skill translation. I’ll split the difference and send him to a situation where the organization could help him maximize his talent.
18. Dallas Mavericks – Theo Maledon (G, ASVEL)
Maledon is definitely more of a combo guard at 6’4 and without a ton of traditional lead guard appeal. In Dallas, some of that tweener status wouldn’t matter much next to Luka Doncic, and his shooting is genuinely appealing.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana) – Jalen Smith (F/C, Maryland)
This is a little early for Smith, but the fit is interesting. It is easy to trust his ability as a floor-spacer and, in Milwaukee, his defensive question marks (from a positional standpoint) would be mitigated playing next to Giannis. The Bucks might be looking for ready-made contributors and he would probably fit into that paradigm.
20. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia) – Josh Green (G/F, Arizona)
The Nets are in a rare position where they don’t have to aim for upside given the presence of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Green is divisive in some circles, but he checks a lot of role player boxes and would theoretically fit in Brooklyn. The “you can’t have too many wings” corollary also applies here.
21. Denver Nuggets (via Houston) – Zeke Nnaji (F/C, Arizona)
I don’t necessarily love Denver using a first-round pick on what amounts to a backup big projection. With that said, the Nuggets haven’t shied away from using significant resources in the same prototype (see Plumlee, Mason) and Nnaji would be a pretty good value. He could potentially play alongside Nikola Jokic as a floor-spacer and he could pair with some of their other options (like Michael Porter Jr.) as a backup center.
22. Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City) – Tyrell Terry (G, Stanford)
Terry is really small and he wasn’t “supposed” to be in the 2020 draft. What he can do, though, is shoot at a very high level. Philly could hide him defensively, and did I mention that Terry is a high-end shooter? The 76ers could use that skill set.
23. Miami Heat – Devon Dotson (G, Kansas)
Tre Jones is a popular mock pick in Miami, in part due to his defensive tools and the Heat’s development system valuing players with that kind of work ethic. Dotson is a significantly better offensive prospect, though, and teams seem to really like what they saw from him this season at Kansas. Miami doesn’t have a ton of “needs” and point guard may not be one, but Dotson would help them if Goran Dragic leaves in free agency.
24. Utah Jazz – Xavier Tillman (C, Michigan State)
This isn’t the best fit in the world because Tillman probably isn’t playing alongside Rudy Gobert with too much effectiveness. He would give Utah some options on the second unit, though, and Gobert won’t necessarily be in Salt Lake City forever. Moreover, Tillman is just good at basketball. That seems important.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver) – RJ Hampton (G, New Zealand Breakers)
Practically, I don’t expect Hampton to fall this far. It does become difficult (at least using this draft order) to find him a slot if he slips out of the lottery, though, and he’d check a lot of boxes for the Thunder as something of a home run swing.
26. Boston Celtics – Aleksej Pokusevski (C/F, Olympicacos)
Scouts seem to be all over the place on Pokusevski. His upside is real because of his size and shooting projection, but he is (very) raw and things could go poorly. With that in mind, Pokusevski could easily fly off the board before this, but Boston has the flexibility to take a shot on his ceiling if they keep all three picks.
27. New York Knicks (via LA Clippers) – Jaden McDaniels (F, Washington)
McDaniels has a bunch of raw talent and there is a reason he was mentioned as a lottery pick before the season started. Based on his freshman season at Washington, he shouldn’t be a first-rounder but, considering the pre-college background, he probably will be. This might even be too low when it comes to trying to project where he’ll actually land.
28. Toronto Raptors – Isaiah Stewart (C, Washington)
Stewart wouldn’t be a first-rounder on my personal big board, but NBA teams still appear to be higher on him than I am. Through that lens, the Raptors make some sense as a team that could utilize him properly to get the most out of his tools.
29. Los Angeles Lakers – Grant Riller (G, Charleston)
Riller is quite old and I get the concern with that and the low level of competition. He is still an exceptionally interesting prospect as a big-time finisher and creator off the bounce. It will be interesting to see how NBA teams evaluate him in the next few weeks and months, but if you buy his shooting, Riller could justify an investment well before this. He’d also be a strong fit with the Lakers.
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee) – Leandro Bolmaro (G/F, Barcelona 2)
As noted with the No. 26 pick, the Celtics are in a position to be aggressive and seek upside if they hold on to all three picks. Honestly, that scenario seems unlikely, but Boston would be a good place for Bolmaro to land. They would know how to develop him and, if it all clicks, the combination of size, creation and feel makes him quite intriguing.